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Irina Gusak
age: 49
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The war diary: “I failed to get my own mother out of that hell – this is my biggest pain…"

Iryna Husak’s house in Mariupol was hit by artillery shelling twice… She miraculously survived those shellfire attacks… She also remained uninjured when the square near the swimming pool came under shelling. Two thousand hungry Mariupol residents (including Iryna) waited for the humanitarian aid there… The Husak family could not wait until the “green corridor” would be announced – on 16 March they left the city by their damaged car... On their way, they even saw the then still intact Drama Theatre building (several hours before the explosion) and a tank gun targeted right at Iryna and her dearest people…

“And here I am, walking the streets of a peaceful and quiet city in the west of the country, and I still envision my dear mum standing in the middle of the shattered yard in a private houses district of Mariupol...”

What happened to Mariupol is not possible to understand, explain or accept...

The war diary: how we survived in Mariupol and how we left the city destroyed by the war...

The barrel of a Russian tank was pointed at my daughter’s face. It was aimed at my husband and me...

I have to live it again, to finally speak out and voice everything I went through, look back and plunge into the abyss of hell. This hell is what my Mariupol turned into, once prosperous city on the shores of the warmest sea and now the ghost city.

My biggest pain is that I failed to get my mother out of that hell... And here I am, walking the streets of a peaceful and quiet city in the west of the country, and I still envision my dear mum standing in the middle of the shattered yard in a private houses district of Mariupol...

THE WAR… A SHELL HIT THE HOUSE…

We were not preparing ourselves for the war. Is it possible to get ready for that kind of thing!?

We had some food in stock at home and our house is quite rigid. It has a solid basement and there is a water well outside in the yard. Two friends of my daughter, who lived in an apartment block, came to our place to stay with us for some time. Two days before the war, we bought a one-month-old puppy of a shepherd dog, and we also had our dog Nika and a cat Tymko.

At first, we did not even go down to the basement. We heard some shelling, but somewhere far away. Messages from friends and acquaintances on the social network about leaving the city seemed surprising and even a little galling – like leaving your hometown on its own in the lurch – let the enemies flee instead, as we are at home, after all...

From 1 March, the intensity of shelling kept growing – electricity and water supply were cut off, but we still had gas. Thanks to that, it was warm and cosy in the house. We could cook what we wanted... We still didn’t run to the basement, but we brought some warm clothes and blankets there. There was still a mobile phone signal – although it was not stable one...

We also found an old transistor radio that could catch a radio signal with Ukrainian news...

On 3 March, the horror began. We hardly slept, stayed in the basement and heard the thundering of explosions all around us. We learned to identify by the sounds – whether it was flying to us or from us. The shelling was intense and heavy, the walls trembled and the ground shook under our feet. We prayed and listened to the radio from time to time...

There was almost no silence – the shells kept exploding somewhere nearby every 10-15 minutes. Sounds... very scary sounds, like the clattering of metal, and whistling when a shell was flying. You hide and wait – will it fly to us or to a neighbouring house?

And every time, while it was whistling, I said goodbye to my life, hugged my husband, held my daughter’s cold palm in my hands and prayed.

The only thing I thought about was if it was really time to die, I wished it could be without pain, to die instantaneously, without suffering...

We did not sleep for two days and spent most of the time in the basement. We did not know what was going on outside, but we heard how the houses of our neighbours were being destroyed... Our Volonterivka was just under the rain of heavy fire...

On 5 March, we were simply done up – we did not sleep and almost did not eat...

Every time, we took the shepherd dog’s puppy with us to the basement – he was small and did not yelp. He slept with the roaring of shells in the background... We called him Marik, although at first he was Jack...

The worst thing was when the night would come. Every time, we did not know if we would survive it or not. The shelling was very strong – Grad MRLS rockets, mines, and sometimes we heard the roaring of airplanes... that dropped huge bombs on Mariupol.

The night was dark. Only the burning houses of our neighbours and Azovstal plant, which had been on fire for almost three days, illuminated the city.

Constant explosions, clattering of metal, sound of crashing glass, whistling of mines, Grad rockets, roaring of airplanes – this sound background drove us crazy... Sometimes, sitting in the basement shoulder to shoulder, we could not hear one another... Sometimes, we could not even hear ourselves...

Our Marik learned to sleep and eat under shellfire in the basement. The night of 6 March was coming – we were tired of the shelling, and we almost did not have any fear by then. It was more a feeling that we did not care a damn – so we stayed in the house more, because it was cold in the basement, my husband had a fever, the girls and I started coughing...

After midnight, very heavy shells were fired. They kept flying in our direction, and almost nothing flew from us out – we realized that the Ukrainian troops had retreated and that the enemy was very close. It was one o’clock in the morning. We were scared. The shelling was hard, but not frequent – once every forty minutes, once every half hour...

We ran to the basement, stayed there and prayed, almost falling asleep, as it was one explosion followed by a period of silence, one explosion and deathly silence again.... Everyone was tired...”

I said that I couldn’t stay in the basement anymore. I felt cold and wanted to warm up and have a sleep. We decided to stay in the house. We lay on a mattress on the floor in the safest room. I even started napping. And here it came to us...

The house shuddered and I saw some sparks in the darkness. There was smoke everywhere. I felt a taste of blood and cement in my throat. My ears were ringing, and we could hear nothing.

The sturdy wooden door to the corridor was knocked out together with the doorframe. Fortunately it fell into the corridor, not on my daughter. Khrystynka slept right under this door. The metal front door to the house was bent out and blocked.

We went to the basement through the bathroom. We had an exit to the garage there. Our Honda CR-V car was parked in the garage, and Darka’s car, a car of my daughter’s friend, was in the yard... When we were in the yard, we saw that her car had been riddled all over – gasoline was leaking, the car was all in holes from shrapnel, and a gas pipe was also broken – gas was leaking out of it.

We didn’t see anything else. It was dark and scary – we hid in the basement. And then the shelling continued incessantly – we could not get out of the shelter until 7 o’clock in the morning.

We decided to leave the house – for the first time, it was announced on the radio that a “green corridor” would be opened. We decided to go to the drama theatre in the square in order to leave through that corridor.

Our house was destroyed – the explosion knocked out the windows together with the window frames, all the doors were blown out, part of the roof was also missing, and broken glass was everywhere. We couldn’t find our cat... We hastily collected some things, threw something away – as we now had only one car, and there were seven of us – my husband and daughter, two friends of our daughter and my husband’s sister with her husband. We were packing up our belongings intermittently, because the shelling continued – a break between the shellfire attacks was for about 20 minutes.

Some neighbours came and helped us move out Darka’s damaged car so that we could leave the yard. My husband removed broken glass from the ground to avoid puncture of the car tyres.

I was looking around perplexedly, standing in the middle of the damaged house. Here is my favourite coffee machine – what delicious coffee it was… Here is a brand new freezer that we never even turned on. And my daughter had a new sofa in her room, so nice and comfortable.

Our family photos were on the walls everywhere – our smiling daughter and her dad; all of us together on a new pier; and all of us in the autumn park. Episodes of our happy life that will never be back... My plants... My house, my castle and shelter...

Now my husband shouted that we had to go down to the basement as there could be an incoming shelling attack. I dropped everything and started running. He followed me, fell down on the stairs and just rolled down to us on his back... I had no strength to cry. I lost some words of the prayer in my stunned and clouded mind.

I wanted to wake up and see for myself that it was all a dream or, otherwise, just die right there. Because what was ahead of us was incredibly frightening...

I was afraid of even imagining that we had to go somewhere – to where the shellfire was so strong that your ears could pop.

We were sitting and counting how much time we had between a series of shelling attacks. We did not count single volleys – we figured out that we had 15-20 minutes. During this time, we had to move away from Volonterivka as far as possible. I said that I wanted to see my mother, at least to let her know that we were alive and that we were going to leave the city.

My mother told me that she would not go anywhere – let the enemies leave instead, as she was at home!!! Oh my dear mother...

We got to see each other, hugged and kissed hastily. I cried bitterly, while my mother consoled me saying that everything would be fine...

It was scary to go by vehicle – there were seven of us in the car – broken wires on the roads, abandoned and burnt trams, and private cars. We saw a dead dog whose head was almost cut off by a shell fragment. I cried...

WAITING FOR THE CORRIDOR AND RESCUE

We stopped by Darka’s mother with a four-year-old child – they also wanted to leave through the “green corridor”. Now there were nine of us in the car...

It was good in the city centre. People walked on the streets, even some shops were still open, and shelling was almost not heard. There were a lot of cars and people in the square near the theatre, and police was on site. We were impressed by some looters who carried up to five fur-coats from the Central Department Store, with price tags on them. They did not even hide...

We waited near the drama theatre for several hours, but we were told that there would be no corridor.

We did not know where to go. We no longer had a home. But we were still alive

We decided to go to my sister. She lived in a high-rise building in Kirova Square. We came there, cried for a while together and then they gave us some food. They still had gas and some food at home. We spent the night there and went to the drama theatre again to wait for the corridor. Our waiting was in vain – no one let us out.

There were about 50 cars in the square and thousands of people with children in the theatre. There were some desperate men among drivers who said that some people managed to break out to Zaporizhzhia by car on their own.

Some said such single cars were shot at. We asked the police if we could go, but no one knew for sure.

We had to look for a place where to spend the night again. There was no point in returning to my sister – at night, gas supply in their house was cut off, and we did not want to be a burden for them. There were quite many of us

I contacted our director. She let us into the editorial office of Pryazovskyi Rabochyi [regional newspaper]. We were glad as it was near the theatre – in the morning we would come to the square again, and that corridor would probably be given to us! Because we heard it on the radio – Vereshchuk [a Ukrainian official] promised it!!!

At night, the temperature dropped below zero and it snowed. We slept on the concrete floor in the office, shivering from the cold so that it was difficult to speak. But we had some food – cheese, cookies, some apples, and sausages...

And again the square near the drama theatre. And again there was no corridor. And again the search for a place where to stay for the night

We came to Darka’s family – that was private houses district behind the steel plant’s slag heap. There were two houses and one of them had a fireplace. But we were 11 adults and 3 children aged 4 and 6 years old. There was very little food – 1.5 kilograms of potatoes for us all. But we also had some cookies and cereals. And there was almost no shelling there.

Well, surely, we heard some explosions, but shells almost did not reach our area. There was also a water well and a site where you could catch the mobile phone signal and see the whole city spread before your eyes.

We cooked some food on open fire, and scouted for firewood and water. It was not bad, but the temperature dropped to almost 20 degrees below zero. The fireplace was only in one house and we lit it only in the evening. We used firewood sparingly. My husband and I, my husband’s sister and her husband slept in the second house – the temperature there was only two degrees above zero. We froze to the bone; we went to bed dressed in our outerwear and even with gloves on.

The men were starving, while we women needed less food. We also had Marik with us and the dog was also starving. We cooked him some porridge. He even ate the skins of peeled vegetables and fruits; he fancied apples.

I was worried about my mother, as we heard really heavy shelling from the area where she was. People came to this village and said that there were fierce battles near Mukhino. And this was not far from my mother’s house. I decided to go and visit my mother together with my daughter and Darka, walking through the small streets.

It was scary, very scary. We were almost running, but keeping down during the shelling. The way there and back took us an hour and a half. We heard that fighting was in progress somewhere nearby – explosions alternated with submachine gun bursts.

I saw my mother and we cried together for some time. A mine hit a neighbouring house and the roof of my mother’s house caught fire.

But my mother’s house has a very solid basement – there are three rooms in the basement, there is a place where to sleep. She also had some food in stock, but she did not want to cook anything. She said she would leave if I picked her up. I told her to be ready – we needed a car, because she wouldn’t be able to make it on foot. We left to my mum our address and a drawing showing how to find us.

Meanwhile, the situation in our area kept getting hotter – it was scary to sleep at night. Shelling was not only going out from us, but there were also incoming shelling attacks on our area. People gathered near the water well and exchanged some news. People from all over the city started coming here in order to get some water. The well was safeguarded and locked for the night. Some people said that in the right-bank part of the city, someone poured fuel oil into a well and water could no longer be used for drinking there. People there were left without water.

One day a shell or a mine landed near the well. After the explosion, a woman disappeared – only one of her slippers and her hat remained. Two days of searching did not bring any result – there was no blood or body found

Then she was found, some few yards away from the site – she was dead. An explosive wave threw her to an abandoned yard. Her body was buried in the garden.

In the afternoon, my sister found me – she moved to my mother’s place. A shell hit a flat on the fourth floor of the house where she lived, on Kirova Street. All the windows in her flat on the ground floor shattered and the door was damaged. Her husband’s car was also damaged. I was glad that my mother was not alone now. It was easier to survive when you were together with somebody. Nadiya’s friend, the owner of the house with the fireplace, paid us a visit. She brought some treats for the children. Even though she had two little kids of her own, she still shared some treats with us.

I was on a cancer treatment course all last year. I almost finished the course of treatment, but the war cancelled everything

But I had to have my port-a-cath rinsed. This is a thing that was sewn under my skin to connect a dropper. It should be washed once a month, otherwise thrombosis could happen and the end of the game. I had a special needle and a preparation, but not every nurse can inject it and rinse it. I wanted to try it myself, but my husband did not allow me to do it. So I decided to go to the military hospital near the swimming pool – it was not far from where we lived.

Darka and I went there. It was surprisingly quiet, almost no shelling heard. There were two cars near the hospital gate. They drove there on wheels without tyres – there were no tyres on the wheels and the cars were damaged.

Our guys brought a wounded man – three bullet wounds – to his thigh and abdomen. The man was pale, but conscious. They pulled him from the car onto the asphalt road, then put him on a tarpaulin stretcher and took him to the hospital building.

We explained at the checkpoint that we needed a nurse. We were told to go to the swimming pool –a medical care office for civilians was opened there.

I came inside without any problems and met a friend of my nephew, Oleksiy. He is an anaesthesiologist. He heard that doctors were needed and came to help – he was given a box of medicines and told to get to work. Oleksiy’s wife was in the 20th week of pregnancy. He did everything I needed – he rinsed my port-a-cath, although he was quite worried because he had never dealt with such a thing previously. It’s good that I had medical alcohol with me, because he was given only hydrogen peroxide.

At the swimming pool, we saw a queue – people wrote ordinal numbers on their hands to get humanitarian aid – food. We also signed up for it

We were told to come tomorrow and promised to be given a separate package of aid for the children – a box of cookies. We decided to come tomorrow. My sister paid us a visit again. She brought us some food – even some meat, i.e. udder. I told her about the humanitarian aid at the swimming pool and we agreed to meet there.

The night was a real hell. The shelling did not subside, the planes dropped huge bombs onto the steel plant – I did not sleep at all, I prayed. We understood that we had to go somewhere – but where????

We wanted to break through to my mother in Sadky, but there was active fighting there. We stared at the city on fire.

We no longer went to the square in front of the drama theatre. The “green corridor” was not even mentioned on the radio anymore...”

From the observation platform, we could see Mariupol on fire and in smoke. Micro-districts no. 23 and 17, the right-bank part and Zelinskoho Street were on fire...

On the morning of 15 March, explosions were heard everywhere, but we went to the swimming pool for food. There were four of us – me, my husband, Darka and Nadiya. We also had with us documents for two children in order to get cookies for them.

We made our way almost running, it was scary. Once we heard the whistling of a mine, we bent down, or we fell to the ground.

There were about two thousand people in the square in front of the swimming pool: pensioners and mothers with children. People queueing for food said that the numbers we had been given were not valid – we could only get coupons or tickets for food using those numbers. Coupons valid for as early as 24 March. As for children’s documents, we could not get anything on them either – we had to come together with the children.

Nobody cared that there was shelling. If you want to get some food, bring the kids! We were standing there and could not understand what to do next. I waited for my sister. Suddenly a shell landed nearby...

Not in the square, but at the military hospital. It was very close. The square shook, people were covered with pieces of bricks and broken fragments. People were screaming and crying, someone was praying, standing on their knees. But almost no one left. People had nothing to eat, so they waited for food...

I insisted that we go home. I almost had a fit of hysterics. I didn’t want any food, I just wanted to survive. So we left, and soon another shell landed in the square again, and this shell hit the building of the swimming pool.

We ran and shell fragments whistled above us. We crawled under the fences, and behind us, people were screaming in the square by the swimming pool.

We barely got home, but it was scary there too. Mines, shells exploded very close – we feared to lose the car – it was parked in the open, in the yard.

At around two o’clock, my husband broke some tree branches and cut some firewood to make a fire. It was time to start cooking dinner – we ate twice a day. For breakfast, we had tea with something. For dinner, we had either soup or porridge. We also had beet-root or peas, as well as some jam...

I was standing in the yard near the car when a shell landed near the neighbouring house. The ground shook, the car bounced, and a large shell fragment flew into the house next to me. It knocked out a huge hole in the wall. My husband almost died – a blast wave threw him to a two-meter distance. He was covered with a rubble of the damaged house. The windows in our house shattered.

In the neighbouring house that was hit by the shell, a woman had her hand and foot torn off, and her husband’s face and neck were smashed. But these people were alive...

The woman was lying on the asphalt and asked to be taken into the house – in fact, into what was left of it. She did not shout, did not even cry or moan. She asked to call her friend, her neighbour, to say goodbye. Then, when the men took her into the house, she asked to give them some sausage, which was hidden in her house. Half an hour later, she said that she was cold and passed away. She was buried right in the yard.

Our car was also hit. The windshield cracked and we could no longer close two doors on one side of the car.

We heard on the radio that a self-organized convoy of 2,000 cars had left Mariupol and all of them reached Zaporizhzhia. I told my husband that if we survived the night, we would leave tomorrow at 6 in the morning...

We nailed up the windows in the house and covered them with carpets because it was cold and a hurricane-force wind was blowing. I didn’t even dream of going to my mother – there was a fight raging there. Tanks, guns, Grad MRLS and planes could be heard. I begged heaven, God, and all the saints to protect our car and protect the house from being damaged at night.

Almost none of us had a sleep. We arranged a sleeping place for children in the bathroom. We decided that all of us would leave, but we had only five litres of gasoline in the second car. Wheel disks were deformed, one tyre was flat and the gearbox was barely working. Darka would be behind the steering wheel. She got her driving licence three months ago.

WE ARE LEAVING MARIUPOL

At six in the morning, we were ready to go, but while we were getting the children ready, and pumping the car tyre, time was running. I was nervous because shelling was everywhere.

At 6:40, we headed off, agreeing to meet with the second car on the way out of the city. We didn’t know yet that the way out of the city was a big problem...

It was on 16 March. The drama theatre was still intact, but there were no cars in the square at all. We reached the square and wanted to move on along Myru Avenue, but it was impossible to drive there – broken glass, electricity wires, and fallen trees were everywhere.

Turning the steering wheel, my husband drove down along a parallel street. We reached “Tysiacha Dribnyts” store (“A Thousand Little Things” store) and headed towards Zelinskoho Street. And there was just a real hell there...

We drove on glass, metal and broken electricity wires. We drove on and did not understand where. My husband shouted that if we punctured the tyres, we would all die. We drove through the yards of burning high-rise buildings. Shells were scattered on the street, craters from explosions were everywhere. We did not know where to go.

A human body was burning on the sidewalk. We were in a panic. Suddenly we saw a Russian tank. The barrel of the tank with “Z” sign was aimed at my daughter, my husband and me...

We were an excellent target. The tank turret froze. I still don’t understand why it didn’t shoot. My husband turned the steering wheel and drove off into a secondary street. I thought that we would not get out of there. We all cried and shouted, “Lord, help us!” And we got out...

Through a narrow street, we drove to the exit from the city, then to the highway to Melekine, and continued our way to Mangush. It was quiet there; there was no shelling there.

We had not seen bread for two weeks, and when in Berdyansk a woman came up to us and offered us some bread, all of us started crying, including my husband.

Our Marik travelled with us. He learned to drink water from a plastic cup and sleep long so as not to feel hungry. As for our second dog Nika and our cat Tymko, we left them in the damaged house in Volonterivka. We left them plenty of food and water. But we left them…

Do you remember that friend who came to us and brought some sweet treats for the children, even though she had two children of her own? Later we learned that she left the house during the shelling, while her children, her husband and mother-in-law remained inside – and a shell hit the house. It was a direct hit! She buried her family members herself. She flatly refused to leave Mariupol…

Mariupol has been destroyed! It does not exist anymore. This city is a ghost! Our living had been too cool. We had been happy. We angered the orcs in the temporarily occupied territory!!!!

Too high a price for the independence!!!! But we have survived…

My city was shot down and burnt, but remained unbreakable!!! I believe that Mariupol will be resurrected!!!

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